Orange and red sand dunes against a cloudless, crisp blue sky; the silhouette of dark camelthorn trees standing motionless on the dried up, white clay pan. Here and there an Oryx wandering across the endless landscape. Sossusvlei & Deadvlei are truly a fantastic sight to behold and every photographer’s dream. This ultimate travel guide will provide you with all the essential information you will need when visiting Sossusvlei, planning your trip, and make the most of your stay.
First things first: Sossusvlei is often used as a synonym to refer to the entire area (including Deadvlei, Hiddenvlei, Narravlei, etc.). However, Sossusvlei is actually only one of many salt pans inside the park (the last one when following the last piece of 4×4 sand road).
Keep reading below for insider tips & useful information on how to get there, driving on sand, the best time to visit, logistics, where to stay, and the best 10 things to do in the Sossusvlei & Deadvlei area.
Getting to Sossusvlei
Sossusvlei is located in the Namib-Naukluft National Park, which is part of the Namib Desert – one of the oldest deserts in the world. There are a few ways to get there.
From Windhoek: take the tarred road B1 to Mariental and then take the C19 via Maltahöhe & Hammerstein all the way to Sesriem.
From Walvis Bay: take the C14 road until Solitaire. Stop there for Apple pie. Then turn onto the C19 all the way in the direction to Sesriem and turn onto D826 (currently being tarred) for the final km’s until reaching Sesriem.
From the south (Ketmanshoop & Fish River Canyon or Lüderitz): You have two options. When coming from Ketmanshoop & Fish River Canyon take the B4 until Goabeb, then turn onto C14 until Helmeringhausen. From Lüderitz take the B4 to Aus and head up the C13. In Helmeringhausen, stop for some fantastic Apple Pie at the Helmeringhausen Hotel. From there you can either take the C14 & C19 until Sesriem or the C27 (more scenic road) through the NamibRand Nature Reserve. Caution: when arriving in Helmeringhausen ask the locals (e.g. the hotel owner) if the C27 is safe to take. We were there in the rainy season and she discouraged us from taking that road, as it had been washed away partly by a river. So the chances of getting a flat tyre were very high.
After getting to Sesriem there is a tarred road of about 60km which will take you the last stretch into Sossusvlei. The speed limit in the park is 60km/h, so you should calculate about an hour to get there. The tarred road takes you all the way to a 2×2 vehicle parking lot.
The remaining about 5 km taking you to Deadvlei & Sossusvlei is via sand road. The road is only accessible to 4×4 vehicles.
Driving in Sossusvlei
We were skeptical about driving this last piece on the sand at first, after having read a few blogs. When trying it out ourselves (for the first time), we found it quite manageable though. So don’t worry too much. Just make sure to lower your tyre pressure to 1,5 bar and engage your 4×4 drive on low gear. Then you should be fine. Also, try following the previous car trails for easier driving.
Alternatively, if you don’t feel comfortable, you can take an NWR shuttle from the 2×2 parking spot for the last 5 km stretch. They go about once per hour.
We even saw some people walking the last piece, but I don’t recommend this: it really gets extremely hot around mid-day.
Best time to visit
Best time of the year
Sossusvlei is great for visiting all year round. It will be quite hot in the day no matter what the season, as you are in the middle of the desert. However, temperatures may be a little milder during Namibian winter in June & July. We visited in Namibian summer (January) and temperatures were up in the 30s°C. In the nighttime, it can get very chilly however, this is especially the case in winter.
Best time of the day
Try exploring Sossusvlei in the first half of the day. Get up early and see everything you want to see between 6:30-12:00. See the sunrise on Dune 45 or in Deadvlei (highly recommended, but only possible when staying inside the gates – see below). If you are up for a challenge, climb Big Daddy dune – you will have a magnificent view from the tallest dune in the park.
After sunrise check out the other spots in the area. After visiting Deadvlei & Big Daddy, there is another about 1,5km left on sand road to get to the actual Sossusvlei salt pan. Follow the car trails and you will reach Sossusvlei pan & Big Mama Dune. You could even check out Narravlei from there (although there is a lot to see so I recommend focussing on Deadvlei, Sossusvlei and climbing one of the dunes in the area).
Head back out of the area and back to your accommodation at noon or 1 pm the latest. After that it gets unbearably hot (although you still see some people climbing Big Daddy in the midday heat).
What you definitely should not miss: seeing the area around sunset. I recommend climbing Dune 45 and watching the sun slowly set over the valley. It is absolutely breath-taking. Also, the dunes look the most dramatic in the late afternoon- and setting sun. You will get some stunning photos.
How long should you stay?
With all the things to do in the area, I recommend at least two days / two nights. We stayed for three nights actually. We drove from Fish River Canyon to Sesriem on Day 1 and then stayed a night in the area (outside the gates) so that we could use two full days in Sossusvlei. Time it so that you have at least one sunrise and one sunset in the area – both are beautiful times of day, where the desert has its very own feel to it.
The logistics: Gates & opening times
There are two gates – the inner gate and the outer gate. The outer gate opens at sunrise and closes at sunset. The inner gate (just a few hundred meters further in) opens one hour before sunrise and closes one hour after sunset. This is very important when deciding on accommodation options (see below), as only those staying within the gates get to experience Sossusvlei in the most magical times of the day – sunrise & sunset.
When arriving in Sesriem, I recommend getting your passes to the park on Day 1 so that you do not need to stop for these every time you want to go in.
There are lots of beautiful lodges and accommodation options outside of Sesriem, however only two options inside the gates: Sesriem Camp inside the outer gate, allowing access at sunrise and until sunset, and Sossus Dune Lodge inside the inner gate, allowing access about one hour before sunrise and past sunset.
This makes a big difference, as those were some of the most memorable times on our Namibia trip. Especially as you need to take into account the 60km drive to Sossusvlei, this extra hour is a game-changer. Needless to say, these two options fill up very quickly, so make sure you book well in advance, especially during high season.
Sossus Dune Lodge
Nestled onto the edge of a hill and overlooking the vast expanses and dunes leading into Sossusvlei, Sossus Dune Lodge boasts 25 individual chalets, a pool, and a restaurant/bar area. It is the only accommodation option completely inside the park so you have access to the dunes at almost any hour.
Despite being beautiful, this was the most expensive accommodation on our whole trip, costing around €150/person per night (in low season!). They offer guided morning and evening drives into the dunes as well. Overall, the service was not very good for what you would expect at such a lodge in that price class.
Important note for self-drivers with rental cars: What we hadn’t quite realized at the time of booking: driving in the park at night is restricted and more generally driving in the dark was restricted by our rental car company. So by the time you needed to head into the park in time for sunrise in Deadvlei (about 4:45 am), it was still completely dark, meaning technically we were not allowed to drive according to our rental car’s insurance policy. It got light around 5:15 am, which was also around the time those staying at the Sesriem Campsite headed into the park.
The same applies to sunset: we watched the sunset at Dune 45 until about 7:30 pm and headed back the 45 km to the lodge. By the time we got back, it was already dark.
So overall you should decide for yourself if you want to splurge that extra bit of luxury at the Lodge, and find out if you are allowed to drive in the dark (to make the headstart from the Lodge worth it). Alternatively, the Sesriem Campsite option below may be the better choice.
A great alternative to Sossus Dune Lodge for staying inside the gate is Sesriem Campsite. It offers about 45 campsites, as well as a filling station, shop, restaurant, and bar. The camp is located inside the outer gate, meaning you have access to Sosssusveli from sunrise to sunset. This still gives you plenty of time to experience the area in magical lighting conditions and will be much lighter on your wallet.
Other options in the area
There are many other accommodation options in the area from Campsites to mid-range and luxury lodges. On our first night, we stayed at the Desert Hills Lodge. This luxurious Lodge is nestled right among the desert hills and offers beautiful chalets with an own terrace looking out on the beautiful landscape. There is a pool for cooling down and a very nice bar & restaurant serving a big breakfast and a 3-course-meal for dinner. This was absolutely one of the most beautiful accommodations we stayed at, so I can highly recommend it. It could be a tad bit of pampering before staying at Sesriem Camp for the next 1-2 nights.
Some other options situated near Sesriem include:
Desert Homestead Lodge
Le Mirage Resort & Spa
Desert Quiver Camp
Sossus Oasis Campsite
Staying at one of these means you will be able to visit Sossusvlei after sunset and head back out before sunset. When staying outside the gates, I recommend you get your park permits upon arrival the first day, so that you save some time the next day when actually heading into the area.
Where to eat in Sossusvlei
There are no restaurants in Sossusvlei or Sesriem, meaning you will either need to cook by yourself (e.g. while camping) or rely on the restaurant that is part of your hotel or lodge. This will often be included in the price of your stay or explicitly mentioned on your booking.
The campsites have cooking facilities, so you can bring your own groceries and cook your own meals. I recommend shopping before heading to Sesriem, as the mini-Shop there only has limited facilities and many things can get out of stock.
The 10 Best things to do when visiting Sossusvlei
Deadvlei is one of the most famous attractions in the Sossusvlei area and is home to the iconic, dead acacia trees. The contrast between the white salt-/clay pan, the dark trees, orange & red dunes, and the blue sky is truly a sight to behold and any photographer’s dream. We spent about an hour walking around, admiring the trees and snapping a few shots.
Tip: Afterward, climb the dune right behind Deadvlei (next to Big Daddy) for a fantastic view of Deadvlei and the surrounding Sossusvlei area and dunes.
After visiting Deadvlei, head down the remaining 1,5 km of the sand road to the actual Sossusvlei pan. Sossusvlei is another salt pan, above it sits Big Daddy’s counterpart: the Big Mamma Dune. Walk around a little and take up the walk all the way in the back of the pan for a little surprise effect at the end.
3. Big Daddy Dune
For those looking for a challenge: climb Big Daddy dune towering 385 meters above the other dunes. Big Daddy is the tallest dune in the park, but not the tallest of the Namib (that’s Dune 7 near Walvis Bay). The view from up there must be fantastic if you are willing to take the hike up. Make sure you start very early, as it gets very hot fast.
4. Big Mama Dune
Sitting opposite of Big Daddy Dune, towering just above Sossusvlei salt pan is the Big Momma Dune. Climb up the side for another spectacular view of the Sossusvlei pan and view of the area. It is not as well-known as Big Daddy so you may have it a little more to yourself.
5. Dune 45
Standing around 85 meters tall, Dune 45’s accessibility and proximity to the entrance, make it one of the most climbed dunes in the Sossusvlei area. Its name derives from its distance from the park gate: 45 km.
Most people who stay outside the gates head to this dune to catch the sunrise; however, at sunset, we were the only ones there (in low season). The climb is a little strenuous but the view at the top was absolutely worth it. We had a beautiful sunset and incredible panoramic view of Dune Valley sometimes called “moonscape”.
6. Hiddenvlei & Narravlei
These two vleis (Afrikaans word for “marsh”) are less known and less visited. This means you will be almost alone.
Hiddenvlei is a smaller version of Deadvlei and can be reached from the 2×2 parking lot. It is about 2km each way, so make sure you take enough water! Although there are signs along the way, it is easy to get lost so make sure you follow the footsteps of previous visitors.
Narravlei sits next to Sossusvlei pan and can be reached behind Big Mama Dune.
7. Elim Dune
Elim Dune, located about 5km behind the park’s entrance gate is another good option for watching the sunrise or sunset, especially when staying outside the park’s gates.
8. Sesriem Canyon
The canyon, carved out over millions of years by the Tsauchab River is about a kilometer long and up to 30m deep. There is water in some parts all year long and there are trees and bushes growing inside. We descended into the canyon, walked around a bit, and afterward climbed back up and hiked along the rim for some nice vistas.
9. Hot Air Balloon ride over the beautiful landscape
For a truly unique experience and majestic view of Sossusvlei, take a Hot Air Balloon ride at sunrise over the magnificent desert landscape & dunes. With flights costing around €400 per person, it is a high-end experience but will make a memory for a lifetime. These rides are offered e.g. by Namib Sky Balloon Safaris.
10. Go stargazing
Sossusvlei is located in the middle of the desert and as such completely devoid of light pollution. This makes the area perfect for stargazing and astrophotography. Nowhere near a city will you see such pitch-black skies with thousands of stars, observe nebulas with your naked eye, and count shooting stars within a few minutes of each other.
New to astrophotography? Check out my easy beginner’s Guide to Astrophotography here(coming soon).
Conclusion: Essential Tips for visiting Sossusvlei
To sum up: Sossusvlei & Deadvlei need to be near the top of your to-do list when visiting Namibia. I would like to conclude this ultimate travel guide with a few essential tips for your visit:
Buy your permits for the park upon arrival. This is important, especially when staying at accommodation outside the park. This will enable you to head into the park right after sunrise without needing to stop at the NWR counter first.
Sesriem facilities are limited. Make sure you get all your supplies for cooking, your water, your sunscreen etc. in a larger city beforehand. We were running a little low on sunscreen and wanted to stock up when in Sesriem – turns out we weren’t the only ones who had that idea. It was all gone. So don’t rely on being able to get any important things there.
Internet & connectivity is almost non-existent in Sesriem and Sossusvlei. So make sure you do all your research beforehand and don’t rely on booking accommodation online on short notice once getting there. Even with our local SIM card and internet plan we had no network for most of our stay.
Sossusvlei is in the desert – so the sun is very strong and it is very hot. This means: bring. enough. water. and. sunscreen. I cannot stress this enough. Your sunscreen should have at least SPF 30, if not 50. And make sure you have at least 3 liters per person for the day. Sun & Heat
Keep to opening & closing times of gates. The inner gates open one hour before- and one hour after sunrise/sunset and the other gates open and close at sunrise and sunset. The opening times can be found at the NWR park reception.
Wear proper footwear to climb the dunes. The sand gets very hot, so could easily burn the bottom of your feet. Furthermore, there are creatures living in the sand, so I personally would be very careful.
Wear light, airy clothing and bring a hat. Due to the extreme temperatures and sun, you will feel more comfortable in airy clothing and a hat will protect your head from getting sunburn or heat stroke.
Pro tip: walk up dunes following others’ footprints. Stepping in ready-made footsteps will decrease the resistance when climbing the dunes, making the hike a little easier for you.
Looking for some more inspiration for your next trip to Namibia? Make sure to check out my posts below for some useful tips, the best road trip itinerary and the 40 best things to do.